Listening and Responding to Clients
The field of structural engineering is, by nature, a collaborative endeavor. Whether you work with architects, government agencies, or individual clients, good communication skills are necessary to effectively work and manage your projects. What are the biggest obstacles you face when working with co-workers, clients, or contractors? Typically, poor communication is at the heart of most frustrations and conflicts during any given project.
In the December 2019 SE University session, Anthony Fasano, PE, from the Engineering Management Institute, presented Developing Effective Communication Skills for Structural Engineers. Anthony offered strategies to improve communication between team members, ways to listen more effectively, and respond appropriately when communicating with others.
Anthony offered several tips on improving listening skills. Since listening is half of communication, it is crucial to let others be heard. Anthony noted that we often jump into a conversation when we feel we can solve the problem being discussed, however, it is more important to allow people to finish their thoughts without intrusion and to listen for silence for a full second before speaking. It can also be helpful to acknowledge the thoughts of the other person by repeating back their ideas to reinforce their importance and ensure you have understood their point of view.
Anthony also reviewed the importance of responsiveness in communicating with clients. Our clients expect answers immediately in today’s fast paced work environment. While instant replies may not be feasible, it helps to acknowledge receipt of their communication, and provide a realistic timeline for when you will be able to complete their request. This reinforces their importance as your client and doesn’t leave them wondering if the communication was received or lost. Quick responses also improve your reputation as being attentive and timely in your service. Clients may not return in the future if they feel neglected or frustrated during the project collaboration.
Communication skills can always be improved, but they must be intentionally modified, otherwise we tend to fall into our usual patterns. Listening patiently and responding to clients in a timely manner can really improve teamwork and heighten your reputation for being professional and competent.